That's what Herman Melville called John Brown. Though they never used that phrase in the film, they managed to maintain an atmosphere of prophesy and portents that worked for me. Maybe I'm a sucker for such things, ;) but I think they did it right in this film, without laying it on too thickly or making it hokey. The Indian squaw's prophesy to the group of friends and West Point graduates (starting at about 1:18) that they would "all be famous men, great in battle, but bitter enemies" sent a little chill up my spine (especially when they all laughed it up at her forecasts).
There is plenty of story in this film to hold the viewer's interest. We start with the senior class of cadets at West Point, only a few weeks before their graduation. A scuffle breaks out in the barracks room when Rader (Van Heflin) antagonizes some of the other cadets by reading aloud one of John Brown's pamphlets. Rader is summarily discharged, and joins John Brown's forces. The other cadets are to be stationed at Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, upon their graduation.
From there, the film follows both the graduates at Ft. Leavenworth (paying particular attention to J.E.B. Stuart and George Custer), and John Brown, who is by now also in Kansas. It ends with Brown's raid on the armory in Harper's Ferry, Virginia, and his famous last words, spoken on the gallows.
If that's not enough, Custer and Stuart are also rivals for Kit Carson's (Olivia De Havilland) hand in marriage; that story provides a little humour to lighten things up a bit. Another side story, of the two scouts who want to join the regiment, also helps to keep the film interesting.
Events and their results are portrayed in the film mostly in a matter-of-fact, "this is the way it happened," almost docudrama sort of style. I could not detect the least trace of moralizing, of "this was right" or "that was wrong." The nation was a powder keg, and the doings of John Brown was part of what lit the fuse. There have been many such people in history. Other than that, I didn't see that the film had any particular point to make.
I'm no history expert, but the events as narrated in the film are in reasonable accord with what I've seen and read elsewhere, and much more so than many such films. Wikipedia has an article on John Brown
and one on Bleeding Kansas
that will provide some background to anyone who may be interested.
Another reviewer remarked on Reagan's bravery in the saddle. I got the impression that Reagan was an accomplished horseman when I saw a brief film clip somewhere of him grooming one of his horses at his ranch in California and going out for a trail ride. Not only did he know to use a hoof pick to clean out his horse's feet, but he knew to hold each of the horse's legs between his knees the way the farriers do it, so as not to get stepped on if his horse decided to pull loose.
I downloaded the 816.6 MB "Cinepack" AVI file. The video is encoded with "FFmpeg/ffdshow ISO MPEG-4" (FMP4), the audio with MP3. Video is 544x416 (4:3) at 29.970 fps progressive, audio is joint stereo VBR. The print quality is very good, and the encoding is clean with no pixelation or artifacts.
I've already watched this film twice. I may even keep it around to see for a third time. :)